Genetic Link Between Autism and Family Language Impairments

autismAccording to a new study, there are genetic links between individuals with autism and their family members with speech and language difficulties unexplained by cognitive or physical problems.[1] In fact, genes in a narrow region of two chromosomes that are responsible for oral and written language impairments can result in offspring developing either autism or language difficulties.1

While specific language impairments is one of the most common learning disabilities, affecting seven percent of children, it is not considered an autism spectrum disorder.1 However, autism affects one in 88 children in the United States, and half have some degree of language impairment.1

Lead researcher Linda Brzustowicz, M.D., states that she and her colleagues are trying to find the genetic factors that may connect language impairments and autism in families.1 They have been studying the genetic influences of autism in families for the past decade.1 According to Brzustowicz, truly understanding autism is difficult without knowing which genes are involved.1 However, scientists do not believe that there is one single gene that causes autism, but several that increase the risk; therefore, Brzustowicz and colleagues are working to identify genetic patterns in families.1

Brzustowicz and colleagues conducted a study of 79 families who had one child with autism and one family member with specific language impairment.1 Tests to assess grammar, vocabulary, and language processing were given to family members, including parents, children, and grandparents.1 In some cases, aunts, uncles, and cousins were also tested.1 Blood samples for genetic testing were also taken.1

Results showed that there were shared patterns of DNA and visible behavioral characteristics across the group of study families.1 Strong evidence of a genetic link in the areas of repetitive behaviors, social interaction skills, and language skills were found.1

Brzustowicz states that the next step is to sequence the whole genome of the study families to see if there are any common gene mutations that can be identified.1

“This is just the beginning,” Brzustowicz states. “We are finding evidence of genetic similarities with the hopes of being able to identify targets that might respond to pharmacological treatments.”1

[1] Pedersen, T. (2013). Genetic Link Between Family Members with Autism, Language Impairment. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 4, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/11/03/genetic-link-between-family-members-with-autism-language-impairment/61514.html

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